J Street expresses deep sorrow at the news that Shimon Peres, the last surviving member of Israel’s founding generation of leaders, has passed away.
Shimon Peres made an indelible contribution to Israel as a senior aide to David Ben Gurion, as Defense Minister, as Prime Minister, as Foreign Minister and as President. He will be remembered for his tireless efforts to keep Israel safe and in his latter years to reach a just peace with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution. He was a friend of J Street, always ready to meet with our leaders and supporters, who will be sorely missed.
Originally a security hawk who was the father of Israel’s nuclear program, Shimon Peres over time became convinced that there was no military solution to the conflict with the Palestinians and that Israel had to reach an accommodation with its neighbors that allowed them to exercise their self-determination alongside Israel.
In his first stint as Prime Minister in 1985, Mr. Peres found Israel embroiled in a disastrous occupation of southern Lebanon and grappling with hyper-inflation. In 18 months, he had extracted Israeli troops from most of Lebanon and set the economy on a new, more healthy path.
As Foreign Minister under Prime Minister Rabin, Mr. Peres oversaw the secret negotiations with the Palestinians that led to the Oslo Accord – for which he deservedly won the Nobel Peace Prize. Mr. Peres was thrust into the Premiership once again after Rabin’s tragic assassination in 1995 – but he lost the ensuing election to Benjamin Netanyahu.
As President, Mr. Peres took an office besmirched by the personal and financial misdeeds of his predecessors and restored its credibility and luster. He became the grandfather of the entire nation and was in many ways its moral conscience, preaching untiringly the need for peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians. Even those who had opposed him politically were won over by his passion, sincerity and moral authority.
Until the end, Mr. Peres remained an ethical beacon and a voice of optimism for Israel. He remained unbowed and undeterred even by the loss of his beloved wife Sonya in 2011.
Over the course of his long and productive life, Shimon Peres epitomized the best of Israel and of the Zionist movement. He was a fighter turned peacemaker, a hawk turned dove, a fierce political fighter turned unifier. We shall not see his like again.